Had a chance to sit down and talk with Chris Hansen this morning.
Here’s most of the interview.
(What’s the latest with the NHL?) “If there’s an NHL team that’s going to show up we have to be involved because they’re going to be our partners. We would have to be involved in a number of ways – splitting suites, sharing operations, deciding things like naming rights and sponsorships. If we’re going to welcome in a partner, by definition, we’d have to be involved and that’s always been our plan. We incorporated in the MOU. We’ve always wanted to build an arena that could support hockey. You can see that in the arena design. … We planned to bring in hockey from the start and we incorporated that thinking into everything from the MOU to the arena design.”
(You’ve said hockey isn’t your passion. Has that changed?) “No. That’s not the type of thing that’s going to change. Your passionate about something or you’re not. I think every once in awhile we can find new things that we’re passionate about. I would just say this is too big of a thing. You’re basically being responsible for something that means a lot to a lot of other people. We can all see success and failures in pro sports franchises and what they mean to the city and to their fans. I would rather not get involved in something I would put a half-hearted effort into. I think that’s the same for the rest of our group. I don’t dislike hockey. It’s not that. I actually watch playoff hockey. I think watching hockey in person is an incredible live-action sport. Until you’ve seen it in person, it’s a lot different. But that doesn’t mean that I’m passionate enough about it to take this own as a real responsibility.”
(So the idea of being a minority owner isn’t going to happen?) “No. I think we’d be open to being a minority owner because we’re essentially their partner anyway, right? If you bring in someone – a hockey ownership group – they’re going to be your partner. There’s too much overlap in business operations for them not to be intricately involved with you. You can look at the cases where that hasn’t worked out where there’s not cohesiveness between the two and it ends up in pretty difficult situations. And then you can look at the success of something locally here like the Sounders and the Seahawks sharing the same venue. They share a lot of support staff. They share a lot of marketing staff. And it’s worked out really, really well for the fans and for the franchises. That’s a pretty good model.”
(In terms of the MOU with the city would it have to restructured if hockey came first?) “Not necessarily. A hockey owner can show up and play in KeyArena until we get a basketball arena so it doesn’t need to be restructured if someone conceptually comes here and play and let a basketball team come then the hockey team moves into the new arena. The way the MOU is structured is we get a certain amount of money if we have basketball – the city and county contribution is X and then its X plus Y if we get two teams. That would put us in a better position with the city and it would put the arena in a better position. It would be more profitable with more dates that are filled.”
(Can the arena project move forward with just a hockey team?) “The way the MOU is structured right now, arena construction will not start and the city will not contributes it’s money until there’s a basketball team. I don’t think there’s a big appetite amongst the city and county council to modify the MOU to provide for hockey coming first. But that is also a question for the city to answer. That is not my opinion. They are the primary party who would make that decision. Based on my understanding of the situation and my discussions, I don’t think there’s a big appetite after the difficulty of getting this MOU through the political process in Seattle to open it up and restarting negotiations for a hockey team to come here first. I think our job, the first priority is really finding a way that if a hockey partner and the NHL wanted to bring a team to Seattle that we can make that happen with the existing MOU as it’s structured in place.”
(So a prospective hockey owner and the NHL would have to wait and see if your group can land a NBA team before moving into a new arena?) “I do think if you were to take a long-term approach, if the NHL did take that risk and a hockey partner came here and played at KeyArena if we were unsuccessful after a number of years getting a new franchise – if it took 3-4-5 years – and the hockey owner did a good job in the city at that point that city might be amendable and the county might be amendable to considering getting the arena started. It’s very important for hockey to play in a new arena. Let’s be clear, KeyArena is an offset ice rink. It probably has 11,000 seats. Hockey does not garner as much local television revenue and national television revenue as basketball does so that puts a higher burden on them on the attendance side and the sponsor side. Those two things are going to be much, much higher in a new arena. They’re going to have 50-60 percent more seating capacity and much nicer venue. So having a new arena is really critical to the long-term financial viability of hockey in Seattle.”
(How are you doing throughout this process?) “I’ve been blessed in life. Let’s start with that. I do a job that I love. I would probably do my day job for free. I’m one of the few people in this world that’s excited to go to work every day. I love my co-workers. I have a great family. Everybody is healthy. Everybody is happy. All of the little things that are really important in life are going pretty well for me. Sure you have speed bumps in life. Things might take a little longer. You might have some adversity and that’s all part of it. Growing up in Rainier Valley, I faced plenty of adversity at a young age. Right now I would be more concerned about tragedy being interjected in my own life then worried about things getting better. I think that’s one of the real challenges for all of us is to realize how lucky we are with the things that really matter in our lives without something bad happening to you to make you realize what you have.”
(If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?) “I don’t think that I look at life that way. I think that looking backwards – other than taking lessons from what you’ve done – and even if you would have done something different, it’s a learning experience. That’s really true for a lot of things away from this in my life. I don’t think I look back on it and say I wish I would have done it differently or I could have done it differently. I think you might say the next time around I learned some things from this process and I’m not going to make the same mistakes I made last time. Or I’m going to do this or that better the next time. But it’s not look back with regret. I don’t have any regret in the whole process so far. Looking backwards and worrying about why things didn’t go your way or you could have done better is just an impediment to success.”
(Are you by nature a patient person?) “Very patient.”
(So then what’s your message to Sonics fans who may not be as patient as you are?) “Does anybody really think that Seattle is not going to have a NBA team at some point in the future? I think everybody can get really impatient when things don’t happen on their own agenda whether it’s something like this or accumulating wealth at a certain point in our life or accomplishing some professional goal of yours. It’s real easy to get impatient and ahead of yourself. It’s inevitable Seattle will have a basketball team. It’s just a question of when. Our job is to get the arena through the EIS process and done and evaluate opportunities as they come up. The next time an opportunity comes our way, we’re going to be in a lot better position. We’re not going to have to prove to the NBA that we’re likely to get an arena built. We’ll have a fully-baked, signed off on deal. There’s not a lot of other cities in this country that can say that. You may not talk about some of the difficulties that we’ve gone though in the last year, but the entire nation got to see how passionate Seattle sports fans are. The best marketing for the case of the NBA in Seattle, I had nothing to do with. And they come out for the NFL and soccer too. The entire world has had a chance to see what a great city this is and how much things have changed since the last time the Sonics were here. How vibrant our city is and how much it’s grown. I don’t want to talk badly about other cities, but I don’t think there’s anyone that is even close to what we have to offer.
(Where are things with the EIS?) “It’s always tough with a process like this – it’s a civic process – to put what percentage are you with it because little things come up. Some things go faster. Some things take longer. But we think it’ll be done by this summer and that’s about where we thought where it would get done. Maybe a teeny bit longer. But it’s in line with other large-scale development EIS projects have taken. Again, I don’t think we’ve seen anything that has caused us undo concern or has caused the city undo concern. So I think it’s going well.”
(Any feedback from the new NBA commissioner?) “We obviously got to know (Adam Silver) in the process. He’s a great guy. I think he’s going to be a great leader for the NBA. I think he has a lot on his plate right now. He said it in the press the top priority for him is the NBA’s new television contract and getting that sorted out. I think that’s at the top of every owner’s mind. I think there’s a few franchises that they would like to get on the right track. A lot of that should happen from revenue sharing in the new collective bargain and the new TV deal will help raise all of those. Those are probably his two most important things. Hopefully after those things are involved there will be an opportunity for us to squeeze our foot in the door and we’re going to make the case. But you never know. For instance with Sacramento it just happened. Opportunities can just present themselves. I don’t want to talk specifically, but I’m pretty sure if another opportunities presents itself we’ll try to get engaged and the NBA would likely want us engaged in that process.”
(It doesn’t sound as if expansion is likely.) “I’m not saying that. I wouldn’t say that at all. I wouldn’t say expansion isn’t the way to go. I would think that post the NBA getting its television contract figured out, my personal point of view is that they may be more open to talking about expansion at that point. But I don’t think even the commissioner speaks on behalf of all of the owners. This is a collective decision that needs to be made on what’s best for all of them. I think they’ll be a lot more open to it once the majority of their teams that may be struggling from a financial viability standpoint have turned the corner, they have new TV deal in place and they keep seeing how persistent and passionate our fans our. I think they’ll be a lot more open to it.”